Many ways to skin a cat…

Songwriting for rock and pop is such an open ended genre that one can approach it from any number of angles and methods… The Beatles proved that lyrics don’t even have to make any sense at all to be appealing.

So I’ve noticed there are two extremes in trying to come up with a good pop song and I’ve put my own inadequate terminology on them: First is the ‘splattered paint’ method, where you write as many songs as you can. Just let the ideas flow, the lyrics flow, the melody, the guitar riff… Enjoy a glass of wine while you’re at it, and don’t forget to keep a recorder ready when you come up with a great idea. After writing a myriad of songs there’s bound to be a few gems amongst the dross.

The other method I’ve named the ‘sculpturing’ method. This is pretty self explanatory. You focus on a particular song and work at it until you have a finely crafted piece of pop. Use this method with filtered coffee rather than fine wine, as it takes commitment and effort.  It also requires more musical skills of developing an idea in your head, and being adept at using your tools -guitar, vocals, piano, mixing and arranging etc to achieve what you’re hearing in your head.

Truth be told, and in my personal experience, songwriting is probably a mixture of both methods. I’ve come up with many ideas for songs by just messing around. I also have tapes and discs of dross ideas and half written songs that will never see the light of day. Ideas I’d come across just messing round with guitar riffs and scales, or playing the blues over a couple of beers and suddenly inspiration strikes, or mucking around with simple chords and singing sentimental pop cliches just to amuse myself.

However, I’ll often find that the idea isn’t enough… you’ve got to develop it. This is where the sculpturing comes in -you’ve got to add the verse, the bridge, work on the rhythm, the arrangement perhaps, the lyrics etc…

Now, maybe some say ‘you can’t just sit down and write a song. You’ve got to come up with a good melody, or lyrics -inspiration can hit you any time -in the bed, on the can, on the road, at the desk etc…’ But I dare say, I have written a few songs just from scratch, just from sitting down and saying ‘I’m going to write a song now’.

However, the tendency of these songs often end up being more technical in nature… they can be a little contrived, but still, some of those songs are among my favorites. And another plus is they seem to end up taking a character of their own, differentiating themselves from plethora of pop-cliches that plagues our society and airwaves.

Of course, some of my best songs are born from the splattering method, but that’s often subconsciously influenced by all the pop cliches that have covertly entered my brain. I’ll then often need to manipulate it a bit more to make sure it’s original. How does one know if a simple melody hasn’t be done before, if one is just rehashing old songs from the past?


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